If the only time you ever ate beets was in your school's cafeteria, you haven't really tasted beets. The methods of preparing beets have changed drastically over the few decades, and you owe it to yourself to give them another try. As a matter of fact, why don't you just grow your own so you can prepare them any way you want any time you want?
According to an Assyrian text, beets were grown for centuries before the common era in one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, said to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife, Amytis of Media. Historians, however, differ on their ideas of where the gardens were and if they ever existed at all. One thing for certain is that beets have been around for centuries.
Not only do beets have a wonderful flavor they can also be used as a thermometer (of sorts) of your soil's pH level, preferring slightly acid soil between pH 6 and 7. If you have some sick-looking beets, you will want to make some soil adjustments. They usually respond well to generous applications of a 5-10-10 fertilizer (about three pounds per 100-foot row before and after planting).
Beets, in general, do poorly when the weather is hot, so if you live in the southern part of the United States, plan to plant in the fall, winter, and spring. People who live in the northern part of the country are at an advantage when it comes to planting beets because of their cooler temperatures. Planting them every few weeks will usually assure them of a continuous supply of these fresh vegetables.
Chioggia beets (pronounced kee-OH-gee-uh) have been popular since the 19th century. They are an exceptionally sweet-tasting Italian heirloom with distinctive striped red and white flesh. This variety doesn't bleed as much as many others, so you don't have to worry about having red fingers when you are working with it. Experts caution those who are new to growing this variety of beets, to be very careful not to break the skin when you are washing your harvested vegetables. Doing so will allow nutrients to escape.
Detroit dark red beets are almost perfectly round and about three inches in diameter. They have gorgeous deep red flesh that is unbelievably sweet. These beets can be grown for both their greens and roots. A major upside to them is that they will grow very well in a wide range of soil and temperature conditions. They will be ready to harvest in just under two months.
This cylinder-shaped beet grows up to eight inches long and is perfect when you feel the need for uniform, sweet slices.
Beets can be grown in the garden, in raised beds, or in containers. Soil depth depends on the variety you choose, but for most garden beets, 12 inches is sufficient.
Sucrose from sugarbeets is the principal use for sugarbeets in this country. Sugarbeets contain from 13 -22% sucrose, widely used as a pure high-energy food or food additive. High fiber dietary food additives are manufactured from the pulp of sugarbeets. These dietary supplements have been introduced recently by major food processors in the United States in many different products.
Although recognized as a plant with valuable sweetening properties in the early 1700s, sugarbeet growing for sucrose production didn't become successful in the United States until around 1870. Previous attempts, although not total failures, were only mildly successful.
Luckily, if you are interested in growing sugarbeets, they are well adapted to a wide range of soil types, although you should plan on adjusting your pH to 6.0-8.0 for the best crop. In the United States, sugarbeets can grow in almost any type of soil available, although having a rock-free soil is advantageous. Rocks cause problems with regard to planting, thinning, harvesting, and processing equipment (if used).
Sugarbeets have also adapted to a very wide range of climatic conditions, but they are not super drought tolerant and need adequate rainfall to sustain a good crop. Sugar beet seeds should be planted between a half-inch to an inch deep, then covered lightly with soil.
Seedlings begin emerging from the soil approximately two weeks (or slightly less) after being planted. Sugarbeets are dicotyledons, meaning they will emerge with two leaves. They are highly susceptible to wind damage, insects and seedling disease until they reach the 4-6 leaf stage, at which time they become quite hardy and able to withstand the extremes of weather.
© 2019 Mike and Dorothy McKenney